These days, Anne Jenkin is one of the Tory party’s grandest dames. David Cameron sent her to the House of Lords as a reward for her efforts to persuade able girls to become Tory MPs — and for trying to keep her husband, Bernard Jenkin, in order: well-deserved, on both counts. Years ago, the Noble Baroness herself was interested in the Lower House. In the early 1980s, to get mud on her Pradas, she stood for Glasgow Glottal Stop and was brave enough to hold a public meeting.
A glowering member of the public fired a question: ‘Whit’s the can’date think aboot fizz?’ Anne leant forward, as if looking for the simultaneous translation. ‘Fizz’ was repeated, in even more menacing tones. Anne was about to quote Madame Bollinger’s famous comment about champagne, thinking that it would not yet be a cliché in the Gorbals, and adding the point that we could all afford to drink a bit more fizz, now that there was a sensible government led by Margaret Thatcher. She was rescued from this unmeeting of minds by a rapid whisper from her agent: ‘family income support’.
I have given some thought to fizz and Mme Bolly lately, after some fascinating and spoiling experiences. Dinner party a few weeks ago: host goes off for another bottle (I am sure that does not only happen when I am there). He comes back with a magnum of ’79 Bollinger R.D., in honour of the grandest année in modern British politics. The wine was superb. It had gained in richness and depth without sacrificing its sparkle: just everything that champagne ought to be. We sipped and savoured, allowing the liquid to glide over the palate like a ballerina, reserving our fuller throats for toasts to Lady Thatcher.
Since then, I have been able to compare that treat with a later vintage. R.D. — Récemment Degorgé — is special stuff: the grapes are carefully selected and kept on the lees for several years before being disgorged. Bollinger makes an even more prized champagne, Vieilles Vignes Françaises, from a tiny supply of pre-phylloxera grapes, yielding only around 3,000 bottles a year. If it overtops the R.D.s, it must be magnificent.
Bollinger also produce a grand année. I recently tasted a 2000, which was delightful, but only approaching its peak. For longevity, however, the R.D.s are remarkable, especially the 1996. There are those who argue that 1996 was one of the greatest champagne vintages ever. On the basis of my tasting, I see every reason to concur.
I have never drunk a wine of that age which was so gloriously, magniloquently unripe. Fruit, acid, mousse: it had them all, each of them full of immense promise, but each in a separate universe. There will be a mighty fusion, an awesome confluence, but not for some time yet. This wine is still snorting in the seven sleepers’ den. If you are fortunate enough to own some, leave it for at least five years; perhaps, indeed, ten. If you are rich enough to afford some, buy all you can.
We had been fortunate enough to run the 2000 grande année against the Pol Roger ’96 Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill. The house of Polly Roger has always harmonised a French pride equal to de Gaulle’s with an Anglophilia which, had he possessed it, would have made the general an even greater man, because a more generous one. Pol Roger gives Winston Churchill its all. Clearly a greater wine than the 2000, the ’96 was also seriously unready, though not as much so as its coeval from Bollinger. When it is time for these two vinous paladins to rise from their slumbers and give battle — that will be some evening.